The reactions to Charlottesville–and especially Trump’s bizarre comments afterwards–fell, predictably, along partisan lines. More than two-thirds of Republicans said Trump’s pitifully unconvincing “both sides” equivocation and quasi-defense of white supremacists was “well handled,” and even more than that said it wouldn’t affect their support of him in the long term. While Democrats once again came across as a party of Cassandras, calling Trump a dangerous, racist pot-stirrer, seemingly stuck in a Groundhog’s Day defense where Trump hasn’t proved he’s a dangerous, racist pot-stirrer over and over again, and gotten away with it.
But, as always, the more enticing question went unasked by either side or their media: “What exactly is Trump up to?” It’s true Trump is an honest bigot, and he does come across as a country-club or fraternity racist, and he doesn’t really need a bigger reason than that to defend a white supremacist rally, but I think there is one.
Democrats keep forgetting that we’ve had this “Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote” cartoon play out before: Trump says something unbelievably offensive (about prisoners of war, Mexicans, the handicapped, any woman that hasn’t been created by his own sperm), and Democrats think they’ve got him, and then he gets away, leaving us scratching our heads on the side of the road. And keep in mind that most of that list I just named was while he was running for President, and all people had to do is not vote for him. Now they have to actually impeach him as a rebuke for bad behavior, and I think that’s exactly what Trump’s betting on.
I mean, do you really think Donald Trump gives two shits about Confederate statues or flags or Robert E. Lee? This is a born-and-bred uber-New Yorker who probably is at least aware that he and Lee wouldn’t have exactly been on the same side in The Civil War (more geographically than ideologically), and if Lee’s campaign to New York had been successful, Trump’s real estate empire wouldn’t have been worth much. For decades, Trump has been synonymous with gaudy, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous excess, Wall Street goonery, carpetbagging plunder, and–as Ted Cruz put it–“New York values.” Before he ran for President, I doubt he could’ve found Mobile, Alabama on a map, and if you’d suggested he hold a conference or golf tournament there (the setting for his biggest rallies), he’d probably have fired you on the spot.
As is always the case with carpetbaggers, Southerners think they’re using Trump, but he’s using them. They think he’s their vehicle for immigration reform (fun fact: Trump has actually deported fewer illegals in his first six months than Obama did in his), “total war” on Islam, and now keeping Confederate statues. Yet in reality, Trump is merely whipping these people into a frenzy so he can stay in office, making it clear to his detractors that Charlottesville is just a taste of what will happen if he’s impeached. [For proof the President of the United States would incite race riots to stay in office, check out his mouthpiece Roger Stone saying that’s exactly what would happen if Trump were impeached.]
Hey neo-confederates, look around if you really think Trump is on your side. The Governor of Virginia has already said he’s going to remove anything Confederate he can get his hands on, and Pelosi is serious about removing monuments from the Capital. Even on this you’ll wind up losing more under Trump than you did under Obama, all while Trump sends out stupid tweets letting you know he’s on your side, but doesn’t really do anything to stop it.
To be honest, it’s better politics for him if statues and monuments keep getting removed, and then he can position himself as the lone defender of Southern history and values, and if he’s out of office, well, then “what will be left?” And Democrats should be wary of this, because shifting the conversation from Russia to a P.R. battle over Confederate statues is exactly what Trump wants. Because their voters are so vastly different they can’t imagine this–still can’t imagine it even after 2016–but a racist President isn’t necessarily an unelectable one, and nobody knows that better than Trump.